Local Medical Marijuana Laws in Washington State

In 1998, Washington voters authorized decriminalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes (RCW 69.51).  Washington is one of 23 states with some type of criminal ‘affirmative defense’ to prosecution or other method of decriminalization.  Washington’s law allows ‘collective gardens’ to grow marijuana for up to 10 patients at a time.  Grower interpretation of the law has resulted in many storefront dispensaries that sell marijuana to individuals with ‘authorizations’ for medical marijuana from a medical professional.  Washington is the only US state with legal medical marijuana that does not have a required patient or provider registry.

In 2012, Washington voters again acted on marijuana, this time passing an initiative to decriminalize marijuana for limited, adult, recreational use, and setting up a regulatory framework for marijuana producer, processor and retail businesses.  The same regulatory framework does not exist for medical marijuana.

There is limited research on the prospective benefits or harms of marijuana use, though some research has demonstrated long-term adverse effects of early initiation and frequent use by youth, risks of driving while under the influence, and some information exists regarding medicinal benefits to some users.  As legalization of recreational marijuana continues, local governments will be faced with zoning choices that may impact availability, consumption, advertising parameters, taxation and licensing, enforcement of smoking or public use bans, and other local responsibilities.  Understanding local regulation and its impacts is a part of Washington’s natural experiment in marijuana legalization, including potential public health impacts. 

This dataset includes over 100 components of ordinances on medical marijuana in effect by mid-2014 in 141 cities (cities of 3000 population and above) and all 39 counties in Washington.  A separate dataset on recreational marijuana ordinances is also available.

King County will update these datasets annually, based on available resources. 


View and download an analysis of city and county response to marijuana legalization

View and download underlying policy data in Excel format

View and download Medical Marijuana Research Protocol

View and download Medical Marijuana Codebook

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